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Winlock shortens water/sewer shutoff timeline

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The City of Winlock has significantly decreased the payment timeline for outstanding water and sewer bills, as new regulations require full payment within one week after the due date before services are shut off.

This system, approved by the City Council during their May 27 meeting, takes the place of a previous timeline where a utility customer had roughly one month after the due date to settle outstanding bills before services were denied.

Under the new payment timeline, which goes into effect this month, bills for water and sewer services will be mailed the last business day of each two-month billing cycle, and payment will be due the 20th of the following month. On the 21st, the bill will be considered past-due and a $25 late charge will be imposed. A delinquency notice will also be mailed explaining the customer has seven days from the date of the notice to pay their bill in full before services are shut off. If services are disconnected, the customer will have to pay a $50 reconnect fee to restore them, after having paid their outstanding balance in full.

The council said they felt this new payment schedule would be appropriate, given the city’s need to update its billing policies, and passed the amendment by a unanimous vote.

The new payment timeline is one of multiple expected amendments to Ordinance 954, governing such regulations, as officials seek to bring Winlock’s utility service practices more in line with other cities. Mayor Lonnie J. Dowell has said Winlock may be missing an opportunity to increase its income by remaining at the bottom end of the scale, adding it would be responsible of the city to increase its fees and match those being charged by other small communities in the area.

“I do like that we are cheaper than everyone else,” he told the council. “Do we want to stay significantly lower than other people, or do we want to narrow the gap a little bit?”

In addition to the shutoff timeline, the council also approved an increase in late fees from $20 to $25, temporary non-emergency shutoff fees from $10 to $25, reconnection fees from $30 to $50, and NSF fees for checks from $30 to $35.

Also expected to be amended are sewer/water hookup fees, as the council is continuing to discuss the potential benefits of increasing them. Dowell had suggested increasing water hookup fees from $2,500 to $3,000, and sewer hookup fees from $3,500 to $4,000 (both for service within the city limits), while some council members, such as Aaron Mummert, say they are concerned an increase may hinder potential real estate investors looking into local properties with potentially-abandoned hookups.

“I have a problem with people that want to come in and move into this city and being stuck with a bill,” he said.

City Attorney Erin Hillier said, according to expectations in state law, it is the purchaser’s responsibility to adequately research a potential investment and look for such things as an abandoned hookup, while the city is in a position only to set such rates and enforce them.

Also expected to be adopted is a potential dormant fee for temporarily-disconnected services, charged at half the normal monthly rate for water and sewer. Dowell said this would be a revenue-generating alternative to the current practice of not charging fees for a temporary disconnection, and would be offered to those who expected to be away from their homes for an extended period of time (no more than six months). This would also prevent customers from having their services disconnected 11 months out of the year and paying for just one month to prevent their hookup from being considered abandoned.

These and other issues, including a potential fourmonth timeline for hookup abandonment in the case of non-payment, are expected to be addressed during future council meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for June 9 at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall. Those with questions may call (360) 785-3811.

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